“The horror! The horror!” – Colonel Kurtz, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad.
Had Kurtz gazed down on the specks of yellow that soon formed the fearsome Minions, then the horrors he saw deep in his own heart of darkness would pale in comparison. They would offer a transcendent picnic compared to the filth and bile found in Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin’s work here. A cultural shift and a paradigm for how animation can be immediately commercialised if the design of a trending character is simple. A yellow blob with eyes and feet is a distinct design, yet extremely simple. Commerciality is the core of Despicable Me and the Minions spin-off. It is sick. It is vile. It is the future of big-budget movies spinning away from mediocre children’s entertainment and into a brand-like status of degeneracy. There is a layer of hurt to Minions that should not be possible.
What hurts most of all is the noise. A soundtrack this good can only cover up the banana-chortling freaks for so long. Eventually, it must subside. Illumination may have money to burn, but not enough to overlay enough music to block out the gibberish of their degenerate creatures. To watch without sound would be a blessing, but then there are many visual qualms to deal with. When so many of the projects Illumination Entertainment output look identical, it is hard to differentiate. Their artistic flair is non-existent and their hack style. Where Despicable Me had a small pittance of substance and a flair of variety to its humour, Minions bases itself solely on characters who cannot speak any understandable language.
Visual comedy can work, but only for so long. Pulling out an hour and a half of banana-coloured fools dithering around, crashing into things, is not a grand slam. Sandra Bullock starring in this should not surprise those who have charted her career over recent years. Nobody stars in a Minions feature if their career is going well. Some may hop in for a cash and grab situation, but the bulk will fear for their future as artists and take what they can get. It is not as if Jennifer Saunders is doing much these days, between this and Sing, there is little for her in recent years. Absolutely Fabulous came to an end, and since then it has been a horror show. But that is the fault of Minions, not the talent it has pulled into its black hole.
But Minions will always have some appeal. Some grand ability to pool actors and directors whose talents would be spent better elsewhere. Jon Hamm, Allison Janney and Steve Coogan all feature throughout. Geoffrey Rush too. That’s two Academy Award winners there. It is not possible to say whether they did this for money or to pay their respects to the conglomerate machine, but it is probably something similar to those. Michael Keaton’s behind the scenes interview lasts less than a minute. Within those seconds are the dying embers of a man on the fringes of sanity. He looks saddened. He is Colonel Kurtz. He has seen the horrors. It did not kill him. Minions hardens the soul, grabs at the wallet and takes what it can. That is the life of Illumination Entertainment. They storm through the door, crash through with glaring colours and sleek, unloved designs and appeal to the broadest denominator they can.